The US military on Thursday promised to reopen special tribunals on the status of Guantanamo Bay war on terror detainees where translation mistakes have been made.

Military authorities acknowledged errors after two Arabic television journalists watching Combatant Status Review Tribunals noticed what they called glaring mistakes in translations of statements made by a Saudi inmate.

Mohammad Alami, a correspondent for Al-Jazeera television network, said that when the detainee explained that he went to Afghanistan for training but wanted to go on to Chechnya "it came out as 'he went to Afghanistan for training but wanted to go on to join some kind of cult'."

Nadia Charters of Al-Arabiya said she was "shocked" by the standards of the translation.

When the Northern Alliance, a coalition of Afghan opposition groups was mentioned, it was translated as "the United States or the United States and its allies", Alami added.

More serious, the journalists added, was when the Saudi was asked whether he had gone to Afghanistan for training before the September 11, 2001 attacks. According to Alami and Charters, he was asked if he had left Afghanistan after the attacks.

"The questions have a completely different meaning and consequence for the detainee," said Alami.

This follows scenes of confusion after a Yemeni accused of guarding Osama bin Laden with explosive belts seemed to acknowledge his Al Qaida membership. An Arabic-English translator quoted defendant Ali Hamza Ahmad Sulaiman al Bahlul as telling the US war crimes tribunal, "I am from Al Qaida and the relationship between me and Sept. 11..."

At that point the tribunal's presiding officer cut him off. Court was recessed a few minutes later after a confusing conversation between the presiding officer, Army Col. Peter Brownback, who spoke in English, and Bahlul, who was listening through earphones to an Arabic-English translator.

Bahlul is among the first four suspected Al Qaida fighters held at a remote US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to face criminal charges of conspiring to commit war crimes, and the third to appear before a military tribunal this week for pretrial hearings. He faces life in prison if convicted.

Washington's treatment of the Guantanamo prisoners has outraged human rights groups and angered some foreign nations. Most of the 585 prisoners were captured more than two years ago during the war against Al Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan and have not been charged or given access to lawyers.

US President George W. Bush authorised the tribunals to try foreign militants after the September 11, 2001, attacks that killed some 3,000 people. They are the first war crimes tribunals held by the United States since World War II.

Bahlul, a small man with a shaved head and newly shaved chin, wore khaki pants and a baggy grey polo shirt. He was not handcuffed or shackled and refused to stand when court was called to order. He did not enter a plea and most of the hearing was spent trying to establish whether he wanted his military lawyers to continue representing him.

Bahlul asked to act as his own attorney and Brownback said no, because the rules required defence attorneys to be US citizens and military officers licensed to practice law and with security clearance. Bahlul then requested a Yemeni lawyer and was again told the rules did not allow that.

But it took a long series of confused exchanges to clarify his preference. Several times Brownback signalled those speaking to slow down because the translators could not keep up. The translators seemed to have trouble explaining legal terms, and Brownback sometimes used military jargon.

At one point, a translator quoted Bahlul as saying he had studied some law in Yemen. Another translator interrupted and said: "My understanding was he knew some people who practiced law in Yemen."